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Light and Dark in Romeo and Juliet

By Alex-Schott Mar 02, 2014 1185 Words

Light and Dark Between Romeo and Juliet
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in the beginning of act 5 scene 2 as Romeo is attempting to leave after his wedding night, Juliet’s true nature is shown through the symbolism of birds and the contrast of light and dark. While Shakespeare initially uses light to portray Juliet, throughout the speech he uses the figurative language, word choice and symbolism of Romeo and Juliet’s language, to show a change in their character and personality. While Juliet was originally portrayed as an innocent, fragile, and the essence of light, her dark nature and self-centered attitude begin to show through as she attempts to force Romeo to stay with her. Romeo’s personality also changes, as he becomes more aware of himself. Throughout Juliet and Romeo’s interaction before his punishment, Shakespeare utilizes the symbolism of light and dark to demonstrate the true nature of the pair. As they disagree about the correct time of day, the lovers use contrasts of light and dark objects to demonstrate their point of view and feelings at this time in the play. It’s in the objects that they choose to defend, that Shakespeare shows the true nature of the pair. When Juliet begins persuading Romeo she starts by stating the obvious that “it is not yet near day” (3.5.1). As Romeo begins to disagree with her, both start using more and more words that relate to light and dark. Romeo first points out the “envious streaks do lace the severing clouds” (3.5.7-8). Romeo uses vivid detail to describe the rising sun in the east over the clouds. By personifying the streaks, he is describing them as envious, because he too is upset that he must leave Juliet. While this describes his feelings, it also shows the character of Juliet who is often portrayed by the light. While she doesn’t want him to leave, she begins to be consumed with her own desires and jealousy. She should be comforting Romeo, but instead she is envious that he gets to leave and escape. While this portrays Juliet as light, as she has been portrayed the entire play, the pair start to switch light and dark as the argument continues in the scene. While the lovers use dark and light symbolism to convey their true nature, Shakespeare also demonstrates the switch between light and dark in the two characters, and the personality changes that occur with the switch in symbolism. Romeo continues to describe that “night’s candles are burnt out”, describing his tiring feelings. It’s also an interesting word choice because the night owns the candles, similar to that after marriage Romeo will own Juliet. This comparison shows that Juliet’s beauty, to him, is decreasing. Since they were madly in love with each other on first sight, Shakespeare portrayed Juliet’s inner beauty, her kindness and will to care for other people such as Romeo, despite the idea of clashing houses. Juliet’s last resort as she tries to convince that the light was only “some meteor that the sun exhaled” (3.5.13). The meteor is the light of Romeo trying to shine through the darkness in one last attempt to break free. Juliet, now symbolized by the dark, is attempting to cloud out Romeo’s judgment, just like the dark is attempting to cover the light of the meteor. By the end of their conversation, the roles of light and dark switch, demonstrating that what meets the eye, is not exactly how people act. It also foreshadows the darkness of the Montague family, and possibly that the final cause of death between the two young lovers is caused by Juliet’s family. Through the two lovers exchange and discussion of light and dark, both Romeo and Juliet use birds to symbolize their true nature and personality. When Juliet is describing the night, she uses the nightingale to prove her claim. Light and dark again play a role in the description of the nightingale. From the beginning of there conversation, Juliet is using the dark nightingale to prove her claim, once again proving that she has switched from light to dark. Through a combination of literary techniques, descriptions and symbolism, Juliet displays her current feelings and inner personality by using the nightingale. When describing the song the nightingale has sung, it’s one “that pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear” (3.5.3). Using assonance she stresses pierced and fearful, bringing out the hateful and horrifying words in that passage. She stresses those because it makes the singing sound bad, making it sound like it killed Romeo. This connects to the symbolism of the bird, which is associated with life and death. It is also a bird that is known for singing its own song. Similar to the lark and the nightingale, Romeo and Juliet created their own sonnet upon meeting each other. Last, the nightingale is a symbolism that inspires poets. This connects to her now dark personality because she is trying to inspire Romeo to stay by using her beauty and song against him.

While Juliet used the nightingale to demonstrate her personality, Romeo too uses a bird, the lark, to demonstrate his differences from Juliet. Romeo exclaims that “it was the lark, the herald of the morn” that had song. Similar to the nightingale, the lark’s symbolism and appearance demonstrates Romeo’s new color and personality, and how it clashes with the change in Juliet (5.2.6). The lark, a mostly white figure with some black beneath the chin is usually seen symbolically connected to religion. Romeo now is seen as white, as the pair switched color roles. Yet still Romeo is seen by society as deceitful due to his family connections, representing the small bit of black below the chin. Romeo is also very connected to religion, as Friar Lawrence is the first person he goes to about Juliet that he feels he can trust. Similar to the nightingale, the lark too sings melodious song while flying, but unlike the nightingale it is considered cheerful and joyous, not just melodic. The lark was most commonly associated with the sun, warmth, light and life. By using the lark, Romeo again is compared to light and life, where as she has been portrayed as death. This acts as foreshadowing, that Juliet, and her family, will be the cause of death for the pair. The lark also signifies happy marriage, and with the intervening of Juliet and her family, Romeo would have had life and a happy marriage. Last but not least the lark represented self-journey and discovery, demonstrating how Romeo and slowly, through Juliet, discovering his true personality.

Throughout their final monologue before death, Shakespeare uses a variety of literary techniques, symbolism and the contrast of light and dark, to demonstrate the characters of the two lovers. It is in the seen, that our view of the pair switches and Juliet becomes more hostile and hateful, while Romeo becomes more self-aware. Overall, this important interaction in the play, signifies a major change, and foreshadows how the pair of star-crossed lovers meet their fatal end.

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